Monday 12 March 2018

The Church's response to writer Ishtiyaq Shukri's open letter

The South African writer Ishtiyaq Shukri has written an open letter in which he responds to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s recent stepping down as an ambassador for Oxfam after a scandal around allegations of sexual misconduct. 

In the letter, Mr Shukri said he was the victim of sexual abuse by Anglican priests and accused Archbishop Desmond of never fully addressing what he claimed was systematic and institutionalised sexual abuse happening in his own organisation.

In response, Archbishop Tutus office issued the following statement:

Archbishop Emeritus Tutu was mortified to learn this week of the suffering Ishtiyaq Shukri has described enduring at the hands of priests in Kimberley. Members of the clergy who break the law or behave immorally are as accountable for their actions – now, in the past and in the future – as any other member of Gods family. Archbishop Emeritus Tutu has retired from public life. He has the utmost faith in Archbishop Makgobas commitment to hold those clergy accused of wrongdoing to account, and support those whose trust in the clergy has been betrayed.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba issued this response:

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) was shocked and distressed to hear a report on Mr Shukris situation at a meeting last month. 

His experiences were reported to the bishops while they were discussing the work of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Network, an international body on which our church is represented. The body was created as a result of what Anglican churches world-wide have acknowledged is “the tragic betrayal of trust by some clergy and church workers in Provinces and churches across the Communion, who have abused children and adults for whom they have had pastoral responsibility.”

More background on the network can be found here:

Mr Shukri has been in touch with one of our bishops and I understand that he is unwilling to go into detail or name the person or persons who abused him.

While respecting his wishes, we usually urge victims of abuse to lay charges with the police and with church authorities. The police are often better equipped to investigate cases than we are, especially in cases which go back many decades and may have occurred in dioceses whose former leaders have died.

In recent years, arising out of allegations of past abuse at church schools and institutions, I have established teams – including a lawyer, a psychologist, a priest and the head of the entity concerned – to investigate and advise me on these matters. I have done this both to ensure that we respond to victims sensitively and respect their dignity, and to protect school and church workers from false accusations.

Every human being deserves to have the dignity bestowed on them by God respected. Anyone who demeans this through any form of abuse demeans themselves and God. Abusing others is unbiblical and cannot be condoned.

As the current Archbishop of Southern Africa, I take responsibility for what has happened during the time of my predecessors and where we have wronged or failed anyone, we beg their forgiveness. I am committed to giving the “Safe Church” initiative significant attention, especially when abuse has been reported and nothing done about allegations. Our Synod of Bishops is drawing up policies and procedures to ensure the safety of all in the Church. 

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